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17 August 2005

#8. Dwyane Wade

Position: SG
Ht. / Wt.: 6'-4" / 212
Age: 23
Fun Fact: Dwyane collects vintage Underoos.

24.1 PPG, 6.8 APG and 5.1 RPG are impressive numbers. But what really impresses me about Dwyane's game is his efficiency. 1.41 PPFGA is excellent, though some may credit Shaq for Wade's increase from 1.24 PPFGA in 03/04 to 1.41 in 04/05. While O'Neal certainly makes Wade's scoring job easier, I think most of the kudos belong to Dwyane and his willingness to take the ball agressively to the basket. He increased his FTA/MIN by 76% this past season, which basically accounts for the entire increase in PPFGA.

The only thing lacking in his offensive game is the 3P shot. He's got the mid-range jumper and he's quick enough to get by just about everybody. He's also got the strength to get all the way to the basket and finish. He was turnover prone last year, likely due to him playing some point guard. This number should come down with the responsible ball handler White Chocolate in the mix.

Dwyane Wade blocked 1.1 shots per game last year. What the hell?

That's all I got.

05 August 2005

#6. Kobe Bryant

Position: SG
Ht. / Wt.: 6'-6" / 220
Age: 27
Fun Fact: Kobe's owns a large collection of turnips naturally shaped like ABA legends.

Ah, the player people love to hate. I've been a Spurs fan for over 15 years, so I have had the torturous experience of watching Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in numerous playoff games. But I never hated Kobe Bryant. I strongly disliked Shaq and I hoped and prayed for the demise of Derek Fisher, but Kobe? To be blunt, he's too skilled of a player to hate.

And he killed the Spurs. Over and over and over again. Just off the top of my head?

The 2002 playoffs, game 4 in San Antonio. The Lakers led the series 2-1, with each team suffering home losses. The series and the NBA title felt up for grabs. The Spurs had an 8 point lead going into the fourth quarter. Being the Spurs, they quickly squandered the lead and the game was tied with under a minute to go. Kobe dribbles the ball off his foot and Derek Fisher scrambles to retrieve. DF shoots a pull up jumper that hits back iron. Kobe (outscored SA by himself in the fourth quarter; 12 to 10), from out of nowhere, outleaps David Robinson and Tim Duncan to grab the offensive rebound. He pogoes off the ground and lays the ball with his left hand. Like it was nothing. I don't even think either Spurs big man got off the ground again.

You know what I remember thinking? "Just FUCK it. He's just way, WAY better than anybody we got. And he wants it more."

Another game 4 comes to mind, this time in the 2004 playoffs. This time the Spurs were up 2-1 and the game was in LA. SA was up 10 points at half. Kobe scored 24 points in the second half (42 for the game) and LA cruised to an 8 point victory. He made numerous tough shots despite constantly going up against either Bowen or Ginobili. At what point he made a running left hander from outside the lane. Again, "Just FUCK it. He's too good."

See, I never understood this whole "Shaq is the most dominant player in the game." As a Spurs fan I was always WAY more scared of Kobe. He was seemingly always the guy who would kill us down the stretch. He was the guy breaking down the defense and putting the dagger in our hearts. He was the guy with the ball in his hand at money time.

Am I saying that Shaq cannot be the most dominant player in the game because he's never the primary option in the fourth quarter? Yeah, I am. Is that simple-minded? Yes. But it's certainly no more simple minded than dubbing Shaq MDPOAT because he dunks the ball a lot and has a pretty smile and a notoriously large wang. Which is the only justification I've ever heard.

Anyways. Kobe is still the same player that murdered the spurs repeatedly when it counted. He's an efficient scorer (1.37 PPFGA last year) who can beat you in a lot of different ways. He's also at least a good defender (though possibly not warranting his 1st team all NBA defense award). He'll play big minutes and take (and make) the big shot. He rebounds well for his position (6.0 PG) and is a good passer. And I hope the Spurs never, EVER (period) face him in the playoffs again.

03 August 2005

#4. Lebron James

Position: SF
Ht. / Wt.: 6'-8" / 240
Age: 21
Fun Fact: Over the summer the Akron Star Beacon ran an article that declared that, contrary to public speculation, Lebron's big endorsement deals (Nike, Sprite) did NOT include a bonus for playing in a large market. Sorry Knicks (and Lakers and Bulls) fans.

I don't have a huge problem with Booth going with Amare at #3. That's a few spots higher than I had him, bue he is undeniably a frightful force with lots of TUP. The two big questions are

1. When will he commit to defense?
2. How much of his production is do to Steve Nash? Another important thing to note is some of his success against the Spurs was due to Pop's emphasis on defending the 3. I cannot recall a single time Amare was double-teamed.

Of course question #1 also applies to who I picked for #3. Because Lebron James doesn't play defense. At all. Well, he does rebound. 6 defensive boards a game from a 3 is very good. But have you ever spent a game just watching him the whole time? On the defensive end he often clearly has no idea where his man is. He floats around trying to make the big play; the steal with the windmill finish. It's not quite on the level of And1 type defense; more like college intramurals.

That's easy to fix, though. He definitely has the ability and size to be at least an average defender. All it takes is him realizing he needs to exert some effort on that end in order to get to the top of the heap. It's not like he's the first player in NBA history to develop his offensive game before its equally important counterpart. That's the NBA modus operandi folks.

On the offensive end? Well, he's already the best offensive player in the league. I don't even think there's a need for discussion. 27.2 PPG with 7.2 APG? At age 20? On a team with no serious outside threat? Here's a question: what numbers would Lebron have put up as PG of PHX last year? 33 and 11? I think I just peed myself.

And he's NOT a volume scorer: 1.29 PPFGA last year which put him at 36th in the NBA (just ahead of Timmeh!). This will go up as he learns the ins and outs of drawing fouls. Speaking of learning, his numbers went up dramatically from his rookie season. Not just the counting stats, either. FG% went up 5.5%. 3P% up by 6.1%. AST up, TO down. Steals up, rebounding rate up. FTA up. Everything up. I'm not saying he's going to make the same magnitude of improvement this year, but it's clear he's making adjustments.

The big knock on Lebron is that his teams haven't made the playoffs. This, of course, is a stupid argument. During the last month of the season he put up 32, 10, 7 and 2.3 steals while playing 45 MPG. What the fuck else was he supposed to do? He could have played better defense, but cut the guy some slack. No one player can be held responsible for the success or failure of his team, especially when that team has Ira Newble playing 25 minutes a game.

Some may question picking him above Shaq. Well, I simply wouldn't be willing to risk losing Shaq to injury when a player the caliber of Lebron is left on the board. Call it risk assessment or value engineering... I call it common sense.

Speaking of Shaq, onto number 5!

02 August 2005

#2. Tim Duncan

Position: PF / C
Ht / Wt: 6'-11" / 260
Age: 29
Fun Fact: Tim's wife had a baby girl soon after game 7 of the NBA finals. It's their first child. I think they named her Sydney, or maybe it was Parker Duncan Ginobili Duncan.

The Big Fundamental. Groundhog Day. The Cornerstone. Rookie of the Year. Two time league MVP. Three time NBA Finals MVP. One time NBA All Star Game MVP. The only significant qualitative award he has not won is Defensive Player of the Year. Which is extremely comical considering he is quite simply, without a doubt, quite frankly, unequivocally the most efficacious defensive player in the NBA.

DPOY should never, EVER (period) go to a guy under 6'-10". Look, the NBA is not a one-on-one matchup. Being a lockdown perimeter defender will only get you so far if you don't have somebody to funnel towards. First of all, a non-negligible part of defense is rebounding. You can run Tayshaun, Ron, Bruce, Larry and AI out there and they'll get scorched. 75% of defensive stops end with a rebound. Second of all, all great defensive teams have somebody anchoring the middle. Defending the basket. Blocking and changing shots.

Timmeh! excels at defensive rebounding and blocking shots. He's also a terrific help defender, which is what the Spurs defense is built around (and probably the most underrated aspect of what produces wins in the NBA). Rotate, rotate, rotate; he's virtually never out of position. It's quite a remarkable thing to watch.

One last thing I'll mention; he's virtually the perfect teammate. He's a team first guy who's willing to get blasted on the sideline by his coach. He doesn't draw attention to himself. He's unselfish on both ends of the court. The only quibble you can have with the guy is that he doesn't stick up for his guys as much as one would like. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is nearly irrelevant.

Now on to numero tres.

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